Figures that have just been released show that last year, 32.3 million tourists booked into the hotels of the region. The top five countries, in terms of the number of visitors they send to the Paris region, are the UK, the US, Germany, Italy and China. In 2013, the UK provided more than two million hotel guests for the region; UK visitors to France are lucky, the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar trains makes it so easy to get there. But what’s really interesting is that last year, nearly 900,000 Chinese people came to the Parisian region; Chinese tourists are fast overtaking those from Japan.
Another upcoming innovation in Paris will also help tourists. Anne Hidalgo, who seems the likely winner in the race to become the next mayor of Paris at the end of this month, and who is the current deputy mayor, has announced a new scheme of electric scooters, very similar to the city’s bicycle scheme that’s been running for years.
The gateway to Paris for many visitors, especially from further afield, is Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport. It opened 40 years ago, on March 8, 1974. As big airports go, it’s pretty soulless but reasonably efficient, with good restaurant and shopping facilities. The other big airport in Paris, Orly ,is also OK, but somehow it still seems stuck in the 1960s. Roissy is far more modern. But the one it replaced had a particular asset. Le Bourget of course was far too small for modern jets, but it was only eight km from the city centre, whereas Roissy is 25 km away. Getting to Roissy is problematic; the RER train service is not particularly recommended, especially because of the potential for thieving in the carriages. Buses are slower, so the best if most expensive way of getting to or from Roissy is by taxi. Plans have been announced to build a high speed rail line from Paris to the city centre, but it’ll be another 10 years before its operational.
But for anyone who wants to see the old Le Bourget, still used for private flights, has a treat in store. The aviation and aeronautical museum there is absolutely magnificent, and as Michelin would say, well worth the visit.
Talking of Michelin, the other day, I bought a copy of the Michelin 2014 tourist and motoring atlas for France. It’s a splendid piece of cartography and so detailed that the smallest villages show up. It’s the sort of book any francophile could drool over for hours!
In Paris, a brave entrepreneur has launched a new paper, Le 1, set up by a former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, Eric Fottorino. It promises a serious weekly read about all manner of current topics, so hopefully, it can find enough readers.
It also looks as if a big government shake-up is on the cards. Le Canard Enchainé, which is usually accurate about such matters, says that April 21 will be the big date. But whether it will make the slightest difference to president Hollande’s abysmal lack of popularity is a moot point. Meanwhile, the recently announced shake-up of regional government in France hasn’t gone done well. In Correze, for long the fiedom of her husband Jacques, Bernadette Chirac is battling to save the name of this distinct part of France. But once bureaucrats have made up their mind, it’s very hard to dislodge them.
One of her recent predictions seems to be coming a bit unstuck. She said that Sarkozy was very likely to run in the 2017 presidential elections, but he is now plagued by so many bugging scandals, one by a former aide, the other ordered by judges investigating whether he got money from Libya to finance his presidential election campaign in 2007,that he may be ruled out of order.
Still, one old timer is still going strong. Actress Catherine Deneuve posed at 70 for the New York Times magazine, dressed in a body, black stockings and little else. In Paris last Saturday afternoon, visitors to the Louvre got an unexpected sight. Seven Arab women, protesting at the lack of women’s rights in the Arab world, staged a topless protest out the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre.
I see too that anyone who wants to buy into Le Corbusier can now do so by paying close to a million euros for a 116 square metres apartment in a block designed by him in the mid-1920s, at Vaucresson, west of Paris. The Steins, together with their friend, Gabrielle de Monzie, for whom the building was designed, all emigrated to the US in 1935 and the Villa Stein-de Monzie was then converted into apartments.
Another interesting story of the moment in France is the campaign to try and save the rail line from Nice to Tende and on to Cuneo in Italy. It’s an extraordinary line that runs for 99 km, through close on 100 tunnels and over countless bridges. But after the fatal rock fall recently on the line from Nice to Digne, no chances are being taken with the line to Cuneo, currently under serious inspection. The line also needs around €75 million in capital investment to keep it open, so that’s what the current campaign is all about. It would certainly be a great shame if it closed, whereas it probably has great potential for development for tourists and locals.
Meanwhile, if you want to see a really interesting photo exhibition on old Paris, you’ll have to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the mid-19th century, just as Baron Haussmann was starting his redesign of the city centre in Paris, a photographer called Charles Marville took many photos showing what the old, decadent, decaying Paris was like, a place where so many lived in such abject poverty and squalor.
On the international front, so much is happening at the moment, quite apart from the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Boeing 777. It’s quite unprecendented. I can’t ever remember a big passenger jet simply disappearing like this, with no firm clues to its disappearance.
The situation in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine is of great concern. The Russians have repeated what they did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, forgetting that this time round, they live in a country that’s vulnerable to free market conditions, in other words the stock exchange. The US is set to far outstrip Russia in gas and oil production and over the next few years, that’s likely to dramatically change the balance of power between the two countries. Whether sanctions are going to have any great effect in the meantime is a very good question. The Russians are probably going to get away scot free with what they’ve done in Crimea. As a sign of western impotence, the New York Times said the other day, acidly, that the English have become a nation of valets to the Russian oligarchs, so they are going to do nothing that will affect their cut of the proceedings.
Some of the stories about Crimea are really heart stoppers, although many of the wilder ones aren’t being reported in mainstream media. Last week, for example, one US source was reporting that the Russians had lined up 30 of their nuclear bombers and had armed them, ready for immediate take-off. I’m currently waiting for my new passport and I sincerely hope that the new one doesn’t arrive in time for World War 111.I always remember what Albert Einstein said, long ago, that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones.
On a slightly more positive note, I see that Turkey is talking of banning YouTube and Facebook. Not an entirely bad idea! Modern digital media has a lot going for it, but at the same time, can create an enormous amount of abuses and time wasting.
Back here in Ireland, more of the usual. A columnist in The Irish Times the other day derided the output of RTÉ television as being devoid of any creativity. In essence, he said, what the station is going is churning out endless hours of endless pap. But then television generally is becoming a bit passé and a lot of younger people show no interest in watching it, a good sign in itself. With the BBC planning to make BBC3 online only and even BBC4 seemingly under threat, will there soon be any good television programming left to watch?
At the end of this month, Buckingham Palace is holding a glittering reception and one of the people invited is the Cork fishmonger who made such a big impression on the Queen during her visit to Ireland nearly three years ago. Pat O’Connell is getting all togged up for the occasion but he’s going to keep his nationality undercover; he says that while he will be all respectable, he will be wearing green boxers!
Talking of green, St Patrick’s Day is coming up on Monday and for the second year running, Ireland will have no US ambassador present for the festivities. The last US ambassador to Ireland retired in December, 2012 ,and it’s a sign of the gross indolence of the Obama administration that they still haven’t appointed a replacement.
Despite the ongoing recovery in the Irish economy, serious questions still remain. Values in the property market in Dublin are growing at the fifth fastest rate of any city in the world, creating another big property bubble ready to burst, while at the same time, ensuring horrendous shortages of rented accommodation. Needless to remark, the government in Dublin gives absolutely no indication that it even recognises these twin problems, let alone sketch out a plan of amelioration.
But they have decided to make childminders pay tax, even grandparents who are paid for looking after their grandchildren. All childminders will now have to fill in a 26 page tax form, although people earning less than €15,000 a year will be exempt.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they introduced a domestic poop tax, so that the more shit people produce, the more tax they’ll have to pay. Of course, there’d be a big song and dance about free allowances and the government, in a rare fit of generosity, could roll out a teeny bit extra in allowances for pensioners. And you think I’m exaggerating!
But at least, personally, I’ve been able to do something small but positive on the personal economic front. I’ve long been sceptical about Tesco, in terms of its service, its product offerings and its pricing. For the past three weeks, I’ve avoided doing the weekly shop in Tesco, so that now, I only buy there is there’s something no-one else stocks, or if they are doing a special offer. I find that my shopping around, although it takes a bit effort, actually yields big results and means substantial savings. Aldi and Lidl have a lot to offer and the quality of their products is usually very good.
Just to end with a joke. A mechanic is repairing a car when a drunk walks by and asks him what he is going. “Piston broke”, said the mechanic. “Oh, I know the feeling”, says the drunken pedestrian.